I will open this piece with a simple truth: the continued incarceration of Omoloye Sowore and other prisoners of conscience is a prelude of how Nigerian democracy will die. Unknown to the flatterers that are happy with the continued detention of Sowore, they are not good companions and advocates for President Buhari and Prof Yemi Osinbajo. It is these praise singers that will ruin these two. The longer the Nigerian Government keeps Sowore in detention, the more the image of President Buhari is damaged and rubbished as a reformed democrat. It should be that simple.
In a recently released message from detention, Sowore stated that “the world should know that I remain unbroken and in high spirits … I will continue to fight for the Nigerian people, ensure that the people are not shortchanged and corruption is driven underground … I will continue to stand up for the downtrodden.”
From this statement, Sowore understands that the dividends of democracy are not measured by the contentment of the affluent political class, but in how the political system has implemented policies and programs aimed at lifting the ordinary Nigerians, the political orphans out of poverty. He should, therefore, not remain incarcerated a minute for standing up for the common man.
What Sowore was urging Nigerians through his “revolution now” call for action is to find a way to re-stitch our fraying social fabric and rekindle our civic spirit. He was simply telling all of us who long for more, but settle for less, and give up too soon, to drive an arrow into the ground and never settle!
The democratic breakdown we are currently experiencing by the refusal of the Nigerian Government to release Sowore is not because the generals in the Nigerian Army are refusing to obey the law. It is because the elected government that has a reformed democrat and a professor of law at the helms of affairs is slowly killing our democracy. These reformed and elected democrats are the ones presently subverting democratic institutions in Nigeria.
In the present democratic backsliding in Nigeria, there are no tanks in the streets of Lagos and Abuja. No coup d’état, the Nigerian constitution is not suspended but the present Nigerian Government has maintained a layer of democracy while slowly gutting its substance. That’s how to describe the continued incarceration of Sowore and his co prisoners of conscience.
The continued detention of Sowore, Mandate, Agba Jalingo and Dadiyata may not be setting off alarm bells simply because martial law has not been declared. People like us attempting to draw attention to these attacks on Nigerian democracy may be dismissed as exaggerating or crying wolf, but, democracy’s erosion in Nigeria is clear.
If indeed President Buhari is a reformed democrat as Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina want Nigerians to believe, his DSS should not be subverting our democracy through the continued detention of Sowore.
If President Buhari is a reformed democrat, he should not be “weaponising” the courts and rewriting the rules of bail conditions to tilt the playing field against opponents. The tragic paradox of the present decline in Nigerian democratic institutions is that democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of democracy to kill it gradually and subtly.
I understand that Nigerians are polarised between the pro-Jonathan and pro-Buhari groups. But, let me remind fellow Nigerians that there is nothing that can kill democracies as quickly as polarization. Every Nigerian who cares about the health of Nigerian democracy should, therefore, justifiably be frightened by what is happening to Sowore, Mandate, Agba Jalingo and Dadiyata.
Protecting our democracy requires more than just fright or outrage. Nigerians should learn from what happened to other democracy and learn with the present warning signs across our political landscapes. We must be aware of the fateful missteps that have wrecked other democracies. That’s the only way we can, as citizens of this great country, rise, together, and avert breakdown by overcoming our deep-seated divisions.
The continued incarceration of Sowore and co is establishing new norms of behavior and must be condemned by all. His detention by the Nigerian Government through the Secret Service is regrettable and completely unacceptable. The result is that the image of President Buhari is being severely tarnished.
Where there is no shame, there is no honor. The continued detention of Sowore is very shameful.
Even when history does not often repeat itself, it sometimes, rhymes. In addition to ensuring that our democracy is saved by the immediate release of Sowore and his co prisoners of conscience, I also want President Buhari to be mindful of history, his history.
Does President Buhari want to be remembered as a reformed democrat or as a military ruler who carried over the repressive acts of the infamous Decree 4 to a civilian administration?
As an admirer of Mr President, I want to inform him that it is not too late to prove to the world, his friends and critics alike that he is a reformed democrat. President Buhari should not let the praise singers that do not have the boldness to point out where he is failing, ruin him.
I have sung the praises of Mr President but I am also bold enough to tell him that his continued incarceration of Sowore is a terrible political blunder. I thus, want this criticism to be a wakeup call that will save, rather than ruin all his good work.
So, free Sowore, Mr President.
Together, we can.
Churchill Okonkwo, Ph.D.
On Twitter @churchillnnobi